8: Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
The only way Manly play finals football is with a healthy Tom Trbojevic. It was clear last season they struggled in attack and defense without him. Manly’s lack of depth coming from the bench is worrying to an extent, but there is enough talent across the team, including Jake Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans, Martin Taupau, Reuben Garrick, and Curtis Sironen. With Kieran Foran returning to Brookvale, and new recruit Josh Aloiai, Manly have enough strike across the park to play finals football again.
7: Gold Coast Titans
Expect the Titans to make the finals this year. I have already covered why they will play finals football this season and I still believe they are capable of finishing higher. It depends on the six teams above them and how they fare this season. The Titans have recruited well and have more than enough strike power in the backline and up front to match it with the best. If they sign Brandon Smith, or even Cameron Smith, then top four looms for the Titans.
6: Penrith Panthers
I don’t believe the Panthers can replicate what they did last season. They were untouchable during the regular season but came back to reality in the grand final against the Storm. Nathan Cleary will have an exceptional season again, but Ivan Cleary has a history of struggling as coach the year after losing a finals match. The experience lost in James Tamou, Josh Mansour, and Zane Tetevano will show, as it will be up to Nathan Cleary to carry the team once again.
5: Melbourne Storm
Craig Bellamy may be coaching his final season with the Storm. The possible loss of Cameron Smith is massive, but they have Harry Grant who is ready to take over. It’s incredible recruitment and scouting by the Storm to find Grant. The Storm will do everything possible to defend their premiership, but without Smith (possibly), it will be a bit challenging at times. They still have a world-class forward pack, with Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes, and Cameron Munster to lead the way.